Game of Thrones: 610 “The Winds of Winter” Review
Reviewed by Mark McCullough.
With an extended episode, Game of Thrones bowed out for yet another year. To say that it went out with a bang (literally) would be an understatement. It’s actually a difficult decision to place this episode in the series ranking. Was it better than last week’s The Battle of the Bastards? In truth the answer is probably, they were two vastly different episodes so are hard to compare but I find myself leaning towards this one. Never before has so much happened in a single episode so to ensure everything is covered I have split this review into subheadings covering each of the important area of what turned out to be a truly phenomenal episode of the show. The bar has certainly been set for next year!
In King’s Landing
The episode opens with a sequence set in the Capital of Westeros and you immediately get the sense that something is a little bit off. The piano score is something that is so uncharacteristic of the show that its presence is enough to be unsettling. The nature of the melody is something akin to a fairy-tale which helps to frame Cersei as the evil witch of the piece. Thematically it also contrast innocence with potentially the single most violent moment in the show. In terms of how the show builds to its big reveal, it opts to do so in one sequence in real time cutting to the happenings of various characters. Each character is used to play to a different emotion: The Grand Maester’s death serves the purpose of the shock factor, Lancel Lannister delivers both the horror of the situation and a sliver of hope that it may somehow be avoided, In the Sept Margery brings a sense of inevitability and an air of impending doom. For the latter it is a real heart sink moment, we are about to lose one of our favourite characters and there is nothing we can do about it. Meanwhile Cersei is a mere spectator to the events she set in motion meaning she like us can only watch. This is very effective as she is used to mirror the audience, showing the opposite emotions that the writers would have us feel.
Aside from the obvious moment in our first visit to King’s Landing there is quite a lot going on too. Cersei has a new costume, which I suspect is symbolic of her fall into insanity. We see the Mountain stopping Tommen from going to the trail, which is indicative that Cersei did not intend for any harm to befall her son. Ser Loras’ trail also takes up a large chunk of the narrative which sees him reject his ‘sinful ways’ to take up the faith, one final victory for the High Sparrow before his ultimate downfall. Again there is lots of symbolism around the entire affair with the entire sequence set in motion by children and the fact that the score is accompanied by a children’s choir. Ultimately it is the innocence of the High Sparrow’s faith that leads to the demise of everyone in the Sept as he fails to heed Margery’s warning. The cost, the extinction of the Sparrows and the future extinction of House Tyrell as Lady Olenna is now the sole survivor. This marks the demise of the third great house of Westeros following the elimination of the Baratheons last series (although technically survived through Gendry) and the Boltons last week.
On the topic of the end of lineage the show continues in King’s Landing with a scene which sees the suicide of King Tommen Baratheon. This is a key moment in the show as it marks the point where the natural line of royalty can no longer be continued. Again Gendry is technically the person who survives this, but I doubt we are going to see him again. With regards to Tommen it was probably the single most shocking moment of the series, I just really wasn’t expecting it and had to pick my jaw off the floor afterwards. Unfortunately since then and in light of how it was handled afterwards, the scene comes across as almost comical. This is not a good thing as it enters the dangerous territory of trivialising something as serious as suicide. This would mark the second time that the show has opened itself for criticism on such grounds following the rape scene with Sansa last season which has since been proven to yield nothing narratively existing only for shock value. Simultaneously to this we see Cersei exact her revenge on Septa Ulna, I would be lying if I said I didn’t find this exchange highly satisfying. Despite what Cersei has just done I couldn’t help but find myself rooting for her given the torment she suffered at the hands of the Septa. The dialogue that accompanied the scene was also very well thought out and gave a fascinating insight into Cersei’s mind and how she acts when persecuted. This is a side of her that has been brewing for a long time and I can help but feel it will be very hard for her to go back now that the only thing she had to live for (her children) are now all gone. This is explored briefly in a short scene where she discusses Tommen’s burial options where she seems genuinely upset at his death, but filled with even more contempt because of it!
At the Twins
When a finale as packed as this one decides to revisit the Freys it is very telling that something big is about to happen. When Jaime Lannister appears in the scene despite the urgency that he appeared to show in previous episodes to get back to Cersei you know that they are looking an excuse to bring Walder into the finale. Finally when you realise that Edmure (sole survivor of the Tully name) has been returned to captivity despite being a key player for their side in the retaking of Riverrun, you realise there is little point in questioning the creative decisions here. Still it was quite nice to see Jaime put Walder Frey in his place after the latter attempted to compare the two. I have said it before and will say it again, Jaime is a much better character when he isn’t around Cersei and is given his own plot rather than being a pawn in Cersei’s development. Hopefully this is something that can be improved upon next Series.
The obvious reason for the involvement of Walder Frey in this episode is revealed later in the episode as we finally see Walder get his just desserts (in the form of a pie containing his sons) for the Red Wedding. Unsurprisingly the girl from earlier who was eyeing up Jaime is revealed as Arya using techniques learnt during her Faceless Men training as a disguise. She insures that Walder knows who she is before cutting his throat and striking a name off of her list finally. Her transformation into a stone cold killer is slightly worrying, but Walder Frey did deserve what was coming to him. With the Boltons dead and this latest development the Red Wedding is finally avenged.
Another questionable inclusion for a narrative which was already tight for time to devote a portion to was Sam’s arrival at Molestown. Obviously the writers wanted to lay the groundwork for some new storylines for next season and remind us of the threat that still looms large beyond the wall. If this was their intention with this scene perhaps it would have been beneficial to mention that. Instead the dialogue consists of some soft humour with regards to the records being so out of date and some discrimination against women and children. If nothing else, the short scene serves as an emotional break after the highly charged King’s Landing scenes and allows the director to play about with some beautiful scenery.
In The North
As per the majority of the episode these scenes were absolutely jam packed with important developments. The first port of call is Ser Davos confronting Melisandre about what happened to Shireen in the previous series. Given how strong the bond between the two was last series I am delighted to see Davos finally learn what happened and stand up for the memory of the girl he loved. As viewers it actually puts us in a tough situation, despite undoubtedly being on Davos’ side, we have forgiven Melisandre for her resurrection of Jon Snow. There’s also the underlying sense that the decision to send her away will prove a costly mistake for Jon. With the Night’s King growing ever stronger she could have proven very useful in the war to come.
Next we see Jon and Sansa discuss their bond and who should have the right to rule Winterfell using the master bedroom as a metaphor for this. Jon comments on how it is Sansa who should be in charge as he is not a Stark however she retorts that he is to her. She follows this up with an apology for keeping him in the dark about Littlefinger before the two agree that they need to trust each other. This discussion is echoed by Littlefinger a little bit later on who suggests to Sansa that it is she who should have the greatest claim to Winterfell. During these scenes he also confesses his love for her again, and for the first time I can recall openly admits his ultimate motive. To sit upon the Iron Throne. Baelish represents a massive threat to the unity of the Starks, and his influence over Sansa is something we should be very worried about next season.
After not featuring since the series opener it a surprise that Dorne comes back in the finale, however it acts as a nice bookend to the series. Any scene that feature Lady Olenna will go down as a good one in my book, and she is on top form here. Consequently we see an alliance form between the two women who are heads of their respective house based on a common hatred of the Lannisters, Cersei in particular. This is where Varys enters the picture and the nature of his secret mission is revealed. Using the Targaryen house words he reveals who has orchestrated this pact. This pact makes complete sense as it fits with the motives of House Martell who want to avenge Oberyn’s death who in turn was trying to avenge his sister’s death also believed to be at the hands of the Lannisters. Oberyn’s sister Elia was married to Rhaeger Targaryen, so the Martell Targaryen alliance seems like a natural one. The first example in this episode of how Rhaeger exerts influence over the narrative despite never featuring in the TV show.
Unsurprisingly we cut to Meereen to Daenerys where she makes the apparent difficult decision to tell Daario to stay behind and ensure Meereen is ruled properly in her absence. This appears to hurt him a lot more than it does her, something that is backed up by her confession to Tyrion. The scene also features the renaming of Slavers Bay to The Bay of Dragons, a fitting end to the narrative there. The next scene features a conversation between Dany and Tyrion where he attempts to console her. They discuss final plans and how Dany feels about being on the brink of getting everything that she wants and her impatience to achieve this. Tyrion confesses that she is the first thing that he has ever believed in and swears his council to her. In return for this she presents him with a badge and names him as Hand of the Queen, returning him to the role at which he excelled up until the battle of the Blackwater in Series Two. And with that the story in Meereen is finally over and it is unlikely that the narrative will ever return.
North of the Wall
We check in with Bran, Benjen and Meera where we learn that the wall is more than just ice and stone, it is enshrined with magic that prevents the others (and Benjen) from crossing. This adds fuel to the fires of the fan theory that the wall will come down very soon of Bran returns to sounth of it. The Night’s King’s mark on him was enough to allow him entry to somewhere magic should have prevented before, so why not again. It would also fit with the fact that they are not being chased by the forces of the undead.
Using one of the Weirwood Trees Bran is able to revisit the past, specifically the Tower of Joy scene that we were prematurely cut from earlier in the series. This time we get to see the goings on inside the tower where Lyanna Stark has given birth to a baby boy and gets Ned to promise her that he will look after the child. The implications of this scene are potentially massive. Whilst the narrative doesn’t confirm who this child is (although it does cut to Jon Snow directly from the baby’s face) or who the father is (confirmed to be Rhaegar Targaryen by the showrunners) we all know this is confirmation of the highly popular R + L = J theory. What Lyanna said to Ned is kept to a whisper so that it can be revealed at a later date, however it is highly likely that she said ‘His Name is…’. This is really interesting as it suggests that there may have been a name agreed by Rhaegar and herself. This opens that possibility that the two may have been married (rather than a rape as many suspected) which would mean that Jon may not even be a bastard after all. If this is true it would actually mean that he hold the best claim to the Iron Throne as grandson of the Mad King, ousting daughter of the Mad King, Dany, on the male succession rule. Even if he is not a legitimate child this is still his bloodline, so he could yet play a massive part in the future of Westeros. A testament to the finale that such a revelation isn’t even the biggest moment of the Finale.
The ending to the episode and series takes place across three scenes giving the series a sense of completeness to each of the main story arcs.
In Winterfell – we see young Lady Mormont stand and declare Jon as the King in the North in a scene which showed remarkable symmetry to Robb’s own coronation to the same role. Ironically the audience now have the knowledge that Jon doesn’t have Ned Stark’s blood in his veins after all, so this all becomes a little redundant. During this the director decides to focus on Sansa who initially smiles at the thought of the North rallying to a Stark, then appears a little concerned when they choose Jon. Given how things worked out for Robb I can’t help but feel a little worried that this may be the beginning of Jon’s downfall. Cersei certainly won’t react well to happenings here, but Dany and Tyrion may see a great opportunity, if something internal doesn’t happen first
In Kings Landing – Jaime arrives back to see a destroyed Sept, and enters the Red Keep just in time to see Cersei’s ascension to the Iron Throne. This scene is a stark contrast to the one before it where the King was declared by the support of his people. Here Cersei’s rule is imposed on the people of King’s Landing whose silence and half hearted ‘long may she reign’ is telling of the support she has. The fact that the piano piece from earlier is played again sows the idea that this was her plan all along and that she has developed into the Mad Queen (again the symbolism of using Wildfire to get there is indicative). The look of disgust in Jaime’s face is also quite telling, not only has she lost her children but she may also have lost her brother/lover. If true that would be a big loss as it is Jaime who would control the Lannister army, not Cersei.
Somewhere between Dorne and King’s Landing – There series opts to end on the moment that everyone has been waiting for. Dany’s fleet is on the move and supposedly on the way to Westeros. The problem with a scene set in the middle of the sea is that it is impossible to place where it occurs. However Varys’ presence is a lot more telling than anything else. Far from having teleported from Dorne to Meereen which would be halfway across the map, it would make a lot more sense if Dany picked him up as she passed Dorne. This theory would be supported by the fact that there are Martell and Tryell ships present in the fleet as the camera pans out. Normally this isn’t something I would worry about, however if true it is potentially a lot more exciting. Last year Jaime made the journey from Dorne to King’s Landing in the series downtime, so there is no reason why Dany couldn’t do the same. What this means is that the series leaves us with the potential of Dany’s assault on King’s Landing occurring as early as the next episode. As such it should be deemed as a form of torture that we have to wait at least ten months for it. Of course underused plot device Euron Greyjoy could always place a delay on proceedings.
An astoundingly good ending to what turned out to be one of the better series of the show. It appears that the momentum is growing and the writers are hurtling towards the endpoint of the show. Each of the last two episodes have been sublime in quality and there is no reason why with so few episodes remaining and so much story left to be told that the show could not reach this level every week. I couldn’t have asked for any more from the season finale, as such it deserves nothing less than the full ten out of ten. As this marks the end of the series I have decided to include a list of the winners, losers and neutrals from the series.
- Jon Snow – went from dead to Lord of Winterfell and King in the North
- Daenerys Targaryen – went from captive of the Dothraki to conquering Meereen and setting sail for Westeros
- Tyrion Lannister – ended the series named as Hand of the Queen
- The Night’s King – was able to find a way to bypass the Three Eyed Raven’s magic and kill the experience version of the character leaving Bran alone
- Arya Stark – Escaped the Faceless Men and removed a name from her list
- Yara & Theon Greyjoy – Form an alliance with Daenerys Targaryen
- Euron Greyjoy – Returns to Iron Islands and ascends to King
- Ellaria Sand – Takes control of Dorne and forms allegiance with Tyrells and Targaryens
- Samwell Tarly – Stands up to his father and arrives for his Maester training.
- Sansa Stark – Returned to her family home, but is playing second fiddle to Jon
- Littlefinger – Allied himself with the Starks but hasn’t gained what he hoped from it.
- Jaime Lannister – Managed to take back Riverrun in a relatively short time with minimal bloodshed, but humiliated by the High Sparrow. Lost two of his children and appears disappointed in Cersei’s choice. Is reunited with Brienne and Bran.
- The Hound – Is seen to be recovered and rehabilitating, has his friends killed but is able to exact revenge. Joins the Brotherhood Without Banners
- Edmure Tully – Helps the Lannisters take Riverrun, but is rewarded by being returned to his cell
- Bran Stark – Learns how to use his powers but loses his mentor and is marked by the Night’s King
- Jorah Mormont – is told to find a cure and come back to Dany
- Brienne of Tarth – has a rather uneventful series and is currently whereabouts unknown
- Cersei Lannister – Despite ascending to the Iron Throne has lost all of her children, appears to have lost Jaime. Has no real support other the Qyburn and The Mountain.
- House Tyrell – Decimated by Cersei following a rather disappointing season in terms of time devoted to them by the narrative
- Hodor – Killed helping Bran escaped from the undead
- High Sparrow – Killed in Cersei’s explosion plot after appearing to have won and amassed huge support in the other nine episodes of the series.
- Ramsay Bolton – Is defeated by Jon Snow in The Battle of the Bastards
- Roose Bolton – Killed by his own son in a similar manner to how he killed Robb Stark
- The Blackfish – Killed after losing Riverrun and Edmure’s betrayal
- The Faceless Men – The Waif is killed and Arya leaves without joining them.
- Rickon Stark – Killed in the Battle of the Bastards
- Wun Wun – Killed in the Battle of the Bastards
- Olly and Allister Throne – Executed along with their fellow traitors by Jon
- Melisandre – Sent away for her murder of Shireen, has total loss of self confidence
Overall Series Six proved to be a good one for the Protagonists of the show who for once seem to come out on top. In terms of the politic of Westeros, the North is pretty unified under Jon, who I doubt will try to conquer anywhere else. The Lannisters hold their usual lands however their Army will answer to Jaime. Dany has the largest powerbase with the Martell, Tyrell, and Greyjoy armies sworn to her along with her Dothraki, Unsullied and Dragons.